Businesses rarely solicit proposals from other accounting firms just to gain some small additional service or higher level of service. Rather they usually consider changing accountants because they perceive their current firm to be failing in their delivery of services or because of factors relating to the business itself.
Over 90% of changes are made because the prospect is unhappy with the service they receive from their current firm. These situations present accountants with a golden opportunity. Even though you might have failed clients in a similar way in the past, the point is that the prospect is unhappy now and is looking for a new firm. If they don’t sign you they will sign one of your competitors!
Problems that cause client dissatisfaction include the departure of a partner, a change of partner responsible for the client’s affairs, or the sudden loss of a valued staff member or a key part of a department. Mergers of national firms often provide clients with reason to worry that costs will increase and service standards will fall. Such changes also affect the staff, often causing morale to fall, which in turn causes service standards to drop even further. In other cases, client dissatisfaction builds up over time in response to an accumulation of minor irritations.
To take advantage of these situations you need to know when a prospect is becoming dissatisfied. Obviously if their current firm is aware of any problems they are not going to make them known, and so unless the prospect approaches you directly you have no way of knowing that an opportunity exists. This is where a key strategy of prospecting comes into play – be proactive in seeking information by:
Talking to prospects
Accountants should have a ‘hit list’ of key prospects whom they would like to sign if the opportunity arises and talk to them from time to time. Though they are unlikely to disclose their dissatisfaction directly, you can listen for telltale signs such as hesitation in their voice.
Using the profession’s grapevine
Like it or not, when a firm is having problems with its clients, rumour and gossip abound on the profession’s grapevine. Keeping your finger on this pulse is a sure way of identifying prospects. Make sure all your partners and staff keep up relationships with other accountants through social and professional networks and report back any opportunities they hear of.
Looking for businesses who need to change auditors
Though some companies are not inclined to change accounting firms it may become apparent that they need a new accountant. These situations are fairly easy to recognise but can be difficult to negotiate.
Even though this predatory approach is common in other industries, it is still comparatively rare in the accounting profession, and many accountants balk at the idea of taking clients away from other firms. But there really is no way to prospect actively for business without being predatory because in most cases for you to win new clients someone else has to lose them.